Dec 19, 2004 7:28am
Drugs taking more lives in New Mexico
September 7, 2004
Drugs taking more lives
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Drugs, both illegal and prescription, are killing off more New Mexicans in alarming numbers, a state report says.
The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator's annual report, released last week in Albuquerque, categorizes the causes of the 5,183 deaths across the state that the office oversaw in 2003.
Those are any death that was sudden, violent, untimely or in which a person was found dead and the cause of death was unknown - about 35 percent of all deaths in New Mexico last year.
But the numbers, OMI officials said, provide a reflection of how New Mexicans in general died, either naturally, accidentally, by their own hand or by someone else's.
Drugs caused 342 deaths last year, according to the report.
Such deaths have risen steadily over the last 10 years. Last year alone, the number jumped by 17.5 percent, said Dr. Sarah Lathrop, OMI epidemiologist.
"That there's a drug problem I don't think is a surprise to anyone," she said. "But it's still distressing."
Drug-caused deaths are not relegated to one part of New Mexico, she said.
Heroin was one of the most common drugs reported in investigated deaths in a five-year span, but many people died with multiple drugs in their system, she said.
"We also found through studies from the state Health Department things like the lack of access to methadone maintenance treatment are having a deadly impact," Lathrop said. "Only 13 percent are currently enrolled in methadone programs. There are waiting lists. There's just not enough services out there. That is likely a reason we are seeing the increase in these drug deaths."
In 346 cases, individuals died accidentally after ingesting alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs last year, the report said.
Illicit drugs were the second leading cause of accidental deaths.
The rise in drug deaths is a trend seen nationally as well, she said.
Suicide, especially, among young people, also continues to be a frightening statistic, Lathrop said.
Last year, child suicides increased by more than 47 percent. It was the highest number of self-inflicted juvenile deaths since 1994.
"New Mexico habitually leads the nation in suicides among children," she said.
Twenty-eight children committed suicide in 2003. More than 92 percent of them were boys. Two were 9-year-old boys.
Overall, the OMI investigated a total of 358 suicides, up slightly from 356 the previous year.
Men ages 25 to 34 were the most likely suicide candidates.
Forty-eight percent of all suicides were committed by a white person.
Most killed themselves on Sundays and in August. October was far less bleak by about half.
A vast majority killed themselves with a firearm. Guns accounted for more suicides than all the other methods combined. Twelve of the gun deaths were juveniles.
The second most likely method of suicide was hanging. But hanging was the method of choice for juveniles.
"Another problem we see here is that even the children are choosing hard methods of suicides - by firearms or hanging," Lathrop said.
New Mexico is one of three states that will be receiving a $180,000 annual grant for the next five years to study suicide in the hopes of uncovering trends and discovering preventative treatments, she said.
The grant comes from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Violent Death Reporting System initiative, she said.
Law enforcement agencies across the state and the state Health Department will work in conjunction under the grant. The OMI will begin submitting data in January and hopes to be issuing quarterly reports by March, she said.
Homicides will also be studied under the funding, she said.
Last year, 187 investigated deaths were the result of homicide - a nearly 2 percent decrease from the previous year.
Ninety-eight homicide victims, or nearly half, were gunned down.
Seventy-seven percent of all homicide victims were men. Forty-three percent were Hispanic. Forty percent were between the ages of 25 and 34.
Homicides occurred most frequently on Saturdays and in November. May was the least bloodied by violent death.
Twenty-two children were homicide victims. Most were teenage Hispanic boys. Five were killed before reaching first grade.
Friday was the deadliest day for young homicide victims. July claimed four young victims - the most in any month.
Twelve youths died after being shot; three were beaten to death.
Gunfire killed in other ways, too.
Seven of the 1,342 people to die accidentally were killed as a result of a shooting - more than twice as many as died that way the previous year.
But violence, self-inflicted or otherwise, did not account for all the deaths OMI investigated.
Fifty-nine percent of those deaths were of natural causes, which cover some 43 types of ailments.
As in years past, heart disease far outpaced the next highest mortal maladies of carcinoma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Physicians with the New Mexico Medical Review Association have said, however, that despite the disheartening figures, the state typically ranks as one of the lowest in terms of cardiovascular diseases.
Most natural deaths did not fall under the jurisdiction of the OMI and are not representative of all natural deaths in New Mexico, the report says.
The OMI report also details whether ethanol, the principal intoxicant in alcohol, was present at levels of 0.05 percent or higher at the time of death.
The legal driving level of intoxication in New Mexico is 0.08 percent.
More than half of all homicide victims had reportable levels of ethanol - 56 percent among those who were shot, stabbed or beaten to death.
More than 42 percent of drivers who died in a motor vehicle crash and 56 percent of pedestrians killed in crashes tested positive for ethanol.
Ethanol was present in 38 percent of all adult suicides.
Nearly 58 percent of the 19 people who died of exposure also had ethanol present in their system at the time of death. Forty-one percent of accidental shooting victims also showed reportable levels of ethanol.
Other findings in the 103-page report:
Six people died as a result of animal bites, kicks or trampling.
Boys ages 15 to 18 accounted for the highest number of accidental deaths among children.
Children were more likely to die accidentally as a passenger in a vehicle; being struck by lightning was the least likely way.
Motor vehicle fatalities - 495 of them - accounted for the majority of all investigated accidental deaths; medical treatment, explosion, lightning or being killed by a blow or collision with an object were the least likely ways to die accidentally.
Nearly twice as many men's deaths were reported than women's - 3,255 to 1,869. Gender could not be identified in 59 cases.
Men ages 35 to 44 were the most likely to die accidentally.
Most of the 259 bodies that came in as John or Jane Does were forensically identified, but 17 bodies were never identified.
As New Mexico's population has increased, so, too, has the workload of death for the OMI. About 96 more autopsies were performed last year than in 2002.
Since 1994, the number of deaths investigated by OMI has increased by 21.2 percent.
Last year, deputy medical investigators traveled 59,424 miles to investigate deaths across New Mexico.
SELECTED NEW MEXICO DEATH STATISTICS
Cause 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998
Heart disease 1,429 1,592 1,585 1,555 1,626 1,500
AIDS 8 9 6 7 6 14
Carcinoma 319 289 303 290 280 273
SIDS 14 14 14 11 16 26
Obesity 5 12 7 5 9 6
All gunshot wounds 320 314 286 289 290 300
Substance intoxication 347 294 271 264 260 250
Suicide by shooting 208 213 198 172 179 183
Suicide by hanging 77 65 79 62 61 57
Homicide by shooting 98 92 79 104 98 100
Homicide by stabbing 24 37 24 28 36 31
Source: New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator's 2003 annual report.
ON THE WEB
For a complete copy of the 2003 OMI annual report log on to omi.unm.edu.